A Future-Proof Plan for Conducting Effective Virtual Learning Events

After experiencing the initial jolt that followed the post COVID-19 implications, most professionals have subsequently emerged with resilience and have embraced the new normal of WFH or remote working. 

Different teams, and departments are now participating at a distance, but they are still required to align, learn and function together, without amplifying the disconnect between them due to physical constraints. That’s where following the steps and strategies to conduct virtual training sessions can seem challenging, if you’re (just like most of the people) new to working mostly online from home. 

While most organisations have adapted their learning programs quickly, we thought it may help to share some of our experiences and some best practices. We’ve got some pro tips, cost-effective suggestions and helpful resources to create learning experiences which encourage attendees to listen, engage and retain information better than before, thereby enhancing the success of your virtual learning initiatives. 

Why virtual learning is a solid underpinning for organisational success

Whether it is accessing information, communicating, collaborating, training, delivering presentations or conducting webinars — virtual events are the backbone of the post-pandemic, thriving workplaces. With in-person training playing such an important role in the learning programs of most enterprises, there is a significant gap which needs to be filled quickly so that learning objectives can continue to be achieved. 

That’s exactly why facility teams of an organisation are faced with the challenge of evaluating various ways in which distance/virtual learning can be conducted more effectively. Once a particular learning model has been adopted, then these need to be codified into best practices and tips which will allow management of these events in a seamless manner. 

So, let’s deepdive into the types of virtual learning, common obstacles that can disrupt the learning flow, ways to improve the level of interactivity in these sessions, and practices that will help you plan and deliver your virtual training sessions effectively. 

The importance of flow without disruptions

There are various types of interruptions, and sometimes problems that snowball into disasters that can undermine the learning experience during a corporate virtual learning session. 

From an unengaging or unprepared facilitator who fails to keep the remote audience hooked to screens, lack of relevant content, overload of information, failure to factor in time-zones, and non-conducive environment for virtual learning (extraneous/dim lighting, background noise, poor audio-video quality) there are many pitfalls that can quickly turn a virtual event into a total disaster. 

If you want impeccable sonic experience for knowledge transfer in a virtual session then, we have you covered. Audio is even more important than video and an uninterrupted audio helps everyone make a smooth transition at different levels of virtual learning experience. Also, a high quality webcam or auto-tracking camera and microphone for faculty are some of the essential components of infrastructure for a successful virtual learning experience, besides saving you from looking dreary. 

It is crucial for a disruption free virtual learning experience that the facilitators factor in the above concerns, adopt smart-tech tools, something like an interactive whiteboard would be a good addition, and also work at overcoming the constraints that make it impractical to conduct virtual learning sessions.

A few tips that will help maintain flow in your learning/training session:
  1. Delivering content using videos should be avoided, as this is affected not only by the presenters internet bandwidth, but also by the participants. Video played by the presenter can often be more glitchy for the audience than the usual stream from your VC or soft VC system (slides and camera).
  2. Be very careful with the clarity of your content in virtual sessions, as PPTs with small fonts tend to fit in a lot of information in one slide. This may view poorly on your participants screens, depending on their screen resolution and quality of their internet connection. Poor clarity can lead to more questions and interruptions from participants. 
  3. The presenter’s video quality is important to maintain visual contact and to ensure visibility of their expressions for the participants, and lighting can play an important role here. A well lit face and a dimly lit background is ideal for the presenter’s video setup.
  4. Good audio clarity is even more important than good video — ensure that the faculty uses a high-quality mic or headset to capture audio. This ensures smoother session flow for the participants even when the video performance is inconsistent.
  5. Instructors often use a whiteboard to illustrate important concepts quickly during in-person sessions. Whiteboards should be utilised in a virtual learning session too, either from a whiteboard in the presenter’s space (streaming from a classroom), or from your soft VC system on a laptop which usually has a virtual whiteboard feature included along with power annotation tools.
  6. A backup internet connection at the presenter’s end can be critical in case their primary connection goes down and disrupts the session completely. A backup presenter or host can also take over the session, in case the presenter’s loss of connectivity is not resolved quickly.

Adding interactivity — Productive or Unproductive

On the surface, it may seem that adding interactivity is a productive element to learning sessions, with few downsides to it. In reality however, while there are several benefits of interactivity in learning, there are several challenges to incorporating it. 

First, and most obvious, it requires much more ability on the part of the instructor or faculty, who need to be able to moderate the sessions, oversee activities, encourage participation and manage session flow while delivering their core session content. This means they need to have a strong presence of mind (that comes with solid preparation) to carefully steer the flow of sessions and the level of interactivity better throughout the course of the session. 

Here are some of the pros and cons when interactivity is made into an important element of virtual learning sessions.
Pros Cons
Boosts engagement of participants as the discussion becomes more interactive Including interactions with participants can add to the session duration (sometimes considerably)
New ideas can emerge through the interactions, since more perspectives are brought in The continuity of the session becomes dependent not just on the presenter’s network and connectivity, but also on the participants’ connectivity (more risk)
A wider range of knowledge may be shared, as participants queries tend to help address doubts and add important details Presenters need to be much more prepared and adept at multitasking — managing the interactivity and the flow of the overall session too
Experiences being shared by participants can add to the colour and depth of the discussion by adding contexts Unexpected questions or disruptions can break the presenter’s rhythm and interrupt the session flow
Makes the session more memorable for the participants and leads to greater satisfaction The interactions can go off track, leading to less time left for other topics within the session

 

Adding interactivity is a powerful tool for trainers and educators and one can do this in several ways:
  1. Asking for quick feedback to ensure if the audience needs more clarity or explanation.
  2. Conducting a quick one-minute survey to increase the level of interactivity, alertness and do a check on overall comprehension, while re-engaging an audience that has drifted.
  3. Adding a little spontaneity to the session, to break the monotony and appear more connected to the audience.
  4. Engaging the interest of your audience by bringing in on an unannounced, surprise guest, preferably an expert to share some useful insights.
  5. Piquing the interest of your audience by announcing an incentive, or giveaways like an e-book, a link to a how-to video or a one time free-sesion that is value-driven.
  6. Allowing participant questions is a very powerful way of adding interactivity — these can be brought in via the Q&A/Chat section of the interface and selectively taken up by the trainer for discussion. 
  7. Supporting faculty should ideally be involved in the session to answer individual queries via chat while the session continues, and pass on the ones selected for response by the primary presenter later in the session.

The success of interactivity within the session will eventually depend mostly on the lead presenter/moderator/faculty in learning sessions. Even those experienced in delivering virtual learning sessions need to practice for the webinar, and should have many practice runs and test all their tools before going live.

A quick tip. Be informative and not necessarily persuasive. Don’t lose the knowledge to the noise. 

Some guidelines for different types of Virtual Learning sessions?

  • The Typical Webinar: Single presenter sessions (for smaller groups)

This scenario can be best explained as an all-virtual learning experience with very limited interactivity. It could be a webinar, or virtual workshops, where the presenter uploads shareable content with a unique or a recurring link for the participants to join in and attend. Here, it is critical to invest in a set of robust video and audio tech tools ,and a reliable VC platform to run virtual training events.

Also, sharing a short walkthrough/tutorial video could help the new users to get familiar with the platform, and avoid any glitches later that may leave them out of the loop.

Typical problems Best practices or solutions
May be less engaging for typical participants Ensure that the presenter and the content are designed to keep the attention of participants. Sessions should be broken down to about an hour, and can be enhanced with more interesting live demonstration segments or interactive polls.
Managing queries from participants Make sure that each participant query can be answered by the faculty without disrupting the webinar flow. Resolution via chat by training staff reduces the number of queries that need   
I missed the session because my connection went down 🙁 Record all sessions and then edit them down to be viewed by people who may have missed it, or want to go over the material again. Make it accessible to view on demand.
I can’t see (or hear the presenter)  The audio system (microphone / speakers) and video system video ( camera) should be checked and double checked before live webinar. A backup internet connection (at the presenter’s end) helps ensure loss of connectivity does not derail the session.
  • One to Many Learning “Webinars” (large groups)

This type of virtual training is fast gaining foothold in various organisations, as it is simple, cost-effective and enables employers and training professionals to deliver all the benefits of interactive training sessions to a large audience. 

However, one caveat to this set-up is that faculty needs to be highly engaging so that attendees don’t  get disengaged and start checking their email, WhatsApp messages or perhaps the wall decor. If it is a pre-recorded session, or a session where there is a view-only option for the attendees, then keeping the training material and delivery engaging can go a long way in circumventing this common pitfall. Balancing this with some basic level of interaction, perhaps some polls, Q&A segments or by providing slides and downloadable resources can be helpful. 

It is also a good idea to share the session content (slides for example) and other training content with the attendees post the session. This can be shared in a folder as standard practice and the location shared with the audience as a post-session email.

Typical problems Best practices or solutions
Unidentified audio disturbance from some participant Keep audio off for everyone except panelists. Panelists should use microphones that have a mute button for better control
Participant has an important question he wants answered Have participant questions answered in the background via chat, and shortlist better or more important questions for answering by the presenter with a Q&A session at the end.
  • Multiple Presenter Sessions  –  Usually larger groups, Several Presenters (partly interactive, all virtual/partly virtual)

When there are multiple virtual presenters, chaos is quick to follow. There can be scenarios where all presenters are connecting virtually, or perhaps with multiple presenters joining from a common location. Each of these poses different challenges.

Things become even more complicated when we need to involve the participants (to make things more interactive), as this needs to be managed smoothly and without disruption or delay. If you are presenting with more than one person, it becomes critical to log in a few minutes before the virtual session, check the audio-visual equipment, and test the platform tools that you plan to use. 

You will also need to set some ground rules for managing interactions smoothly, like the show of hand, and a round of active participation for every attendee, after say, 5 minutes. This will help in circumventing any chaos that may follow when attendees are trying to compete for attention, or when inadvertently, presenters end up cutting each other off.

Typical problems Best practices or solutions
Delay in transitions from one presenter to the other Make sure that you have a slide sequence with planning time slots shared with all the presenters, so they work with you to maintain session flow. Some presenters may need reminders via private messages to help make sure the transitions happen well. 

The next presenter can also be prompted so they are ready and have their content handy at the transition point.

I can hear someone else in the background! Please mute that microphone! There should be 1 controller / moderator who manages the microphones of all participants and presenters.

This would help in minimising the audio problems that we face because of someone in the audience / presenter unknowingly leaving their mic open.

 

A final word for facilities team on practicing session management

It is advisable to have co-facilitators and/or technical support assistance involved, who can tackle the inevitable glitches without you (the primary presenter) having to worry about them. This includes last-minute unpleasant surprises, network and connectivity issues and other disruptions that have the potential to turn your anticipated success into a frustrating episode of pandemonium like those heated debates on news channels.

In conjunction with these, planning virtual ice-breakers, creating polls to gauge attendees’ level of understanding, scheduling breaks to counter distraction and boredom, and cementing the knowledge transfer with a quick post virtual learning session discussion, are some of the fail-safe ways to transform the learning experience into a memorable experience.

For more information on Conducting Effective Virtual Learning Events in India,

Contact Actis at 022-30808080 or at contact@actis.co.in.

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AV Solutions, Audio Visual Consultants at Actis Technologies India